How To Be: Kuchiki Rukia (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

In Bleach, one of the most central characters to the early narrative is one Rukia Kuchiki. Introduced in the first episode, she is the bridge of our previous point-of-view character into the spirit world as an outsider. She is a character from another world, deprived of powers in our world, who has to guide Ichigo, a seemingly ordinary dude who can see ghosts, into seeing the immensely complicated reality that spiderwebs about him about societies full of special rules and seemingly arbitary boundaries. Rukia is this sort of mix of gremlin energy, doing things like building a micro room in Ichigo’s closet, ostentatious self-importance due to her noble heritage, and very legitimate expertise in spiritual matters. It’s the sudden loss of Rukia that marks the transition between the first two major arcs of Bleach, where all the fun we’ve had up until now is suddenly framed as something you have to pay for. The society, the life, the world that is waiting outside of the fun of highschool appears and demands that all that fun is over and now there is a duty.

I assume at some point after that she gets super powers and reunites with Ichigo and they have cool adventures and the story doesn’t run in place for nine years.


Examining Rukia

Okay, powers in Bleach are dumb. Character powers are extremely expansive, and combat isn’t very tactical or meaningfully like, fair. There’s also a whole like, standard package of powers that are introduced and used at times primarily to segregate the story’s scenes in the supposed real world into a place where you know, cops don’t show up, and nobody on the news completely destroys the status quo of the narrative. That means there’s things like being able to go into ‘the spirit world’, punch people’s souls out of their bodies, and being completely invisible to most people doesn’t really work as ‘powers’ per se as much as they are just part of the metaphor of how power worked in this setting.

Plus we kind of don’t get to see Rukia doing a lot of that.

The manga did give you an impression of what Rukia was going to do, an end point perhaps, but it didn’t quite materialse in the time the manga had. Rukia did a lot of uh, catch-up, and the story kept expanding in ways that left Rukia behind. She wasn’t going to be the peak force in any part of the story, which meant what she did demonstrate doing was kinda b-plot, and of secondary, reduced importance.

There is a saviour though. Because it’s very easy to look at Bleach and go ‘well, Rukia doesn’t do much,’ but that’s just because Bleach is a really long series with lots of inconsequential fighting that takes too long. When you need to see what if Rukia was doing stuff, though, we can turn to the platonic ideal of her we get in the Bleach Brave Souls videogame. Which, you know, I also don’t play. Still, that’s not important, what’s important is that there is a place where we have a general aesthetic and style for Rukia that we can extrapolate that isn’t necessarily tied to the narrative of a manga whose author stopped giving a crap.

Therefore, here’s a list – a list – of stuff that Rukia does that seems distinct from the general grab-bag of powers.

  • Rukia fights with a sword and no shield
  • Rukia has some spiritual or supernatural power
  • Rukia knows ‘spells’ of a sort
  • Rukia’s powers are related to cold in some way

If you want to look at other options that have some added breadth to the character, that you can use to build around that will still feel Rukia-like, then:

  • Rukia can see spirits and ghosts
  • Rukia can teleport some short distances, either as a very fast dash or outwitting someone’s perceptions
  • Rukia can detect powerful forces from a distance away
  • Rukia can talk to the dead
  • Rukia can freeze people in place and do more damage to them
  • Rukia was a storage point for an artifact of immense world-ending power

Now, that last list is largely going to go unused, as you’ll see, but keep it in the back of your mind when you’re filling out your Rukia.

The Essential Rukia

Glossary Note: Conventionally, the term used in D&D for this mechanical package is race. This is the typical term, and in most conversations about this game system, the term you’re going to wind up using is race. For backwards compatability and searchability, I am including this passage here. The term I use for this player option is heritage.

With one exception, the builds I’m going to describe are heritage-agnostic. Since Rukia is a shinigami, and that’s something in common with everyone like her, it seems that ‘being dead’ or ‘a half-ghost person’ is a kind of a common trait. For this, by default, I’d look at the Revenant. The problem with that is that the Revenant just opens you up to even more questions – because it’s a heritage option that is notoriously up to no good.

For simplicity’s sake, I’d assume that this character is going to be layered onto another idea, something that fits within the universe, rather than wanting to emulate the actually dead element. If you really want a grim theme like that with your heritage, there’s also the Shadar-Kai, and you could ask the DM to enable something like the Fey Step chicanery with that (see below). By default, I’m assuming no fixed Heritage.

When we talk about optimising a damage type, there’s a lot of synergy to be had with radiant damage in a group, and a lot of interesting options for fire or thunder, but what we haven’t really talked about is one of the easiest ones to maximise ever, the infamous Frostcheese. So named because it seems to good to be true, Frostcheese is what you get when you take the heroic feat Wintertouched and the Paragon feat Lasting Frost. That doesn’t do much until you get to paragon, but know that it’s a really great option sitting up there, in Paragon. What these feats do in conjunction is that if you have a weapon that does cold damage (and we’ll get to that), any time you attack an opponent, once you hit, you impose vulnerability to cold and get permanent combat advantage against them. For two feats, that’s a lot of advantage to get.

Weapon-wise, the options are pretty easy, if a bit dull. You can pick a light blade or a heavy blade, but however you’re cutting it, you’re taking a sword. That sword will want to be enchanted, when you can, with a Frost weapon enchantment or a Chill Wind enchantment. That makes all your attacks cold damage, which means you can build for synergies with that on all your weapon attacks.

Ability score wise, Rukia has famously bad social skills – she’s hostile and rude and she’s fond of shouting at people. She’s also bad at expressive art. Strength, dexterity and constitution are kind of ambiguated as ‘spiritual strength’ in the setting, so it isn’t clear which she’s good at or bad at. I think it’s reasonable to look at how Rukia looks and behaves to imagine she’s not necessarily a high-strength powerhouse, but maybe you do. That’s going to play into what classes you think work well for her. In my case, I think of Rukia as having either a good Intelligence or Wisdom, depending on how you perceive one or the other, and the rest is a little flexible.

Finally, armour-wise, Rukia does not wear armour that looks particularly obvious. She is wearing lots of heavy robes, usually, so you can often use that to flavour as having heavier armour underneath it if necessary.

If you want to have your Rukia do a lot of magical stuff like kidou out of combat, well, Ritual Caster, the feat, is right there and it even has a ritual to let you turn, say, a closet, into a tiny little house. Just saying.

With all that stuff together, here are three big, easy, obvious options for how to make a Rukia and then we’ll talk in the junk drawer about things that can get a bit weird.

Option 1 — Shinigami Out Of Water

Holy heck, hollydoo, whoop de woop hooray we have finally hit a character where the first, out of the box, easy and obvious option is the beautiful Avenger. The Avenger is a weapon wielding class that attacks with its Wisdom primarily, and has one of the most profoundly nice class features of any damage dealer. An Avenger picks an enemy and says ‘I’m going to mess them up specifically,’ and then every time they roll an attack on that target, they roll two d20 and pick the one they want. Now this translates to something like an extra 5% to hit or something like that, but it also means you get the wonderful feeling of successfully avoiding natural 1s about half the time they come up, and that can feel really good.

The Avenger doesn’t need to wear armour and can in fact reach tank levels of AC with feats and armour choices that improve unarmoured defense. They can wield the immense fullblade and get a very large slab of damage, or they can pick up any of the more exotic options for specific virtues like reach or brutal.

The Avenger under the hood is very straightforwards, designed to work in a small space without a need for tons of feat support and in the first parse, the developers kind of nailed it. Take the Avenger and just pick powers you like, and when you hit Paragon and can take Lasting Frost, you’ll find you’re very consistently and very reliably hitting opponents and inflicting cold vulnerability that also improves your own chance to hit and your own damage. Hooray!

Option 2 — A Captain’s Command

Rukia gets to be a captain in the flashforward stories (written by Ryoga Narita of Baccano fame, what the hell). This has been shown in the Brave Souls games by giving her a really cool looking captain aesthetic, which, ugh, man, I love this character. There’s a whole thing about shapeshifting and bankais and movie continuity about which I do not care and neither should you, but the important thing is, you may feel that an avenger, as a damage dealer, may feel less like the main character of a party and more like one of the crew following either a defender or a leader. Rukia isn’t boiling with ‘leader’ options (though, I mean, later), but there is a really good option for playing a defender.

The Battlemind is one of the most anime style defenders in the game. They can interrupt an attack after it’s been made and interpose themselves suddenly from across the room, raising one arm and saying nothing personal, kid. They get multiattacks in the form of area augment powers and of course, goofiness with Brutal Barrage. They are powered by Constitution, so they’re default tough as heck, and their punishment is directly just punishing people with the damage they just dealt. It’s even called mind spike, like an icicle.

The Battlemind does get heavier armour, but you know, Rukia does have that big heavy coat

Option 3 — Being Not Doing

I’m always going to have some bullshit in mind when I start on these builds. In this case, while the Battlemind is the Most Anime out of the box, if you like the single-handed sword, no-weapon off hand style of the anime without necessarily thinking of it as a big, heavy weapon, you should look at the Swordmage. The Swordmage attacks with its intelligence, something you can easily see Rukia as having, and can do Very Anime things like teleporting next to an ally to save them, or next to an enemy to punish them.

The Swordmage also opens the door for the Eladrin Swordmage Advance and Fey Step builds into paragon. I try not to focus on Paragon, so it’s definitely a thing you don’t need to make the build work, but if you like big, overloaded turns where you do things like, say, charge an enemy and drop three AoE attacks in the same action, then the Fey Step based build is a very anime way to do it. This package relies on an Eladrin (or a permitted Shadar-kai), and we’ve talked about it in the Corvo article.

The Swordmage is also a solid class out of the box, and it doesn’t need tons of malarkey to get Rukia’s control-through-cold style. The at-will power Frigid Blade is an at-will power that you can use in your early days to evoke ‘freezing’ people adjacent to you by imposing 2-3 point of speed penalty.

Junk Drawer Options

Oh lord, so many options. You can go for the Monk if you want to play something that captures the anime go-anywhere hit-anything feeling without relying on the damage of your weapon specifically. If you want to play a leader, the Bard and Ardent both have a good overlap with Rukia’s powers, if not her personality (I don’t see her as being particularly high-Charisma). Warlocks, like the Hexblade, can start with an amazing cold damage weapon they never need to replace and can support with feats. And there’s also the Wizard Bladesinger variant if you’re feeling really feisty about trying out Essentials things.

Plus, you know that time when Rukia was standing next to Ichigo in the early manga chapters and shouting at him to stop getting hit? Well, Warlords exist.

Bleach is one of those things that’s just always going to be part of me, and it’s always going to be there as this reminder of a piece of media that failed because of how it was made. I’ll always be thinking about the cool ideas and moments it made, and part of that is the cool characters, and the concepts they express.

Rukia is great, and I hope you’re inspired to think about playing a huffy, brilliant little knifebrat in your next game.